Mercedes-Benz CL550: Your Fin de Siecle Moment

October 14, 2008
2009 Mercedes Benz CL Class 5.5L V12

2009 Mercedes Benz CL Class 5.5L V12

If it's the end of an era of excess, the Mercedes-Benz CL550 sure doesn't know it.

This week, while the market is pole-dancing for Hugo Chavez' entertainment, while Palin and Biden and Obama and McCain are all trying to convince you a cure is on the way and really offering no evidence to support such a thesis, I'm piloting a Benz CL coupe--a car that doesn't need to be cured of anything except high cholesterol, the kind you get from too much foie gras. Piloting, because in its COMAND controller alone, there's enough aeronautic flair to please a Gulfstream groupie. More technology and more buttons and more knobs than in all of the Smart fortwo, enough appeals to your sensory pleasures to make Sodom and Gomorrah look like waypoints on the nav screen.

It's scary, but the CL550 is fleet and luxurious enough to totally distract me from logging into my 401(k) plan online and surveying the wreckage. And in truth, I'm actually driving only the "base" CL550, if that notion doesn't make you snort loudly. The CL550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V-8 with a 388-horsepower engine that's teamed to a seven-speed automatic. You can charge up to a V-12 car or a choice of AMG-modified turbocharged cars--but also in truth, this CL is already a sinful, debauched totem of power. Which I am totally loving.

Why so? For one, it doesn't care what the economy's doing--and it rarely lets on it cares what the road beneath is doing. Even with the 4Matic four-wheel drive made available just in time for the 2009 lineup, and its rear-biased torque split of 45:55, the CL550 glides over the pavement with a carefree ease that makes you wonder what the suckers who pay twice as much for the CL65 are really getting (except for turbo lag--ask Automobile's Jason Cammisa about that one). This is a hefty, barrel-chested coupe that weighs more than 5,000 pounds but handles with Nureyev agility. Credit the Active Body Control (ABC) system, which controls ride height and suspension feel. The steering doesn't talk back much, though, and we like a little sass.

Inside and out, the Mercedes-Benz CL takes a minimalist approach to ultra-luxury, if that makes sense. You can read its imputed value in every delicate curve of its rear quarters, and the interior telegraphs your spendthrift ways with tony leather, chrome-bedazzled buttons, and furniture-quality wood trim. Ultra-tech has its place, too, in the CL's COMAND controller--which, in truth, doesn't work half-bad, allowing me to control my iPhone and broadcast radio and satellite radio and talk hands-free without oafishly colliding with the lesser Kias and Corollas in the lane next door. (You'll need a week to digest the manual and learn its interface, though.)

The opulent interior in my test car sported multicontour seats, some of the best I've planted myself in--the bolsters inflate and deflate with you as you corner. The backseats are very roomy for a coupe, though getting in and out takes advanced extraction techniques. Ladle on the safety gear--Parktronic parking aid, a blind-spot detection system, all manner of airbags and stability controls--and the Mercedes-Benz CL-Class adds up to an 8.8 rating in's rankings of new cars, with a perfect score of 10 for features.

So while we do the big economic swirl, and steam into the next generation of the Entitlement Society, I'll be whistling by the graveyard in the only two-door I know of that's capable of outswanking a '66 Continental coupe and outhustling a Vegas card shark at the same time. One question: While we're at it, can someone please socialize the cost of owning this $108,775 two-door, so I can keep myself up in the lifestyle to which I've become accustomed?

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